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- The Re-Creation of Brian Kent - 30/41 -
of mine own the clubhouse."
"My name is Burns," returned Brian. "We noticed your boats on the river. You are enjoying your outing, are you?"
Again the man looked curiously from Brian to Betty Jo. "Oh, yes; we can stand it for awhile," he answered. "We're a pretty jolly bunch, you see;--know how to keep things going. It would kill me if I had to live here in this lonesome hole very long, though. Don't you find it rather slow, Mrs. Burns?"
Poor Betty Jo's face turned fairly crimson. She could neither answer the stranger nor meet his gaze, but stood with downcast eyes;--then looked at Brian appealingly.
But Brian was as embarrassed as Betty Jo; while the stranger, as he regarded them, smiled with an expression of insolent understanding.
"I guess I have made another mistake," he said, with a meaning laugh.
"You have," returned Brian, sharply, stepping forward as he spoke; for the man's manner was unmistakable. "Be careful, sir, that you do not make another."
Mr. Green spoke quickly, with an airy wave of his hand: "No offense; no offense, I assure you." Then as he moved toward the door, he added, still with thinly veiled insolence: "I beg your pardon for intruding. I understand, perfectly. Good-afternoon, Mr. Burns! Good-afternoon, miss!"
Brian followed him out to the porch; and the caller, as he went down the steps, turned back with another understanding laugh: "I say, Burns, you are a lucky devil. Don't worry about me, old man. I envy you, by Jove! Charming little nest. Come over to the club some evening. Bring the little girl along, and help us to have a good time. So-long!"
Mr. Harry Green probably never knew how narrowly he escaped being manhandled by the enraged but helpless Brian.
Brian remained on the porch until he saw the man, in his boat, leave the eddy at the foot of the garden and row away up the river.
In the house, again, the two faced each other in dismay.
Betty Jo was first to recover: "I am sure that it is quite time for Auntie Sue to come home and take charge of her own household again. Don't you think so, Mr. Burns?"
And Brian Kent most heartily agreed.
THE WOMAN AT THE WINDOW.
The members of the clubhouse party were amusing themselves that afternoon in the various ways peculiar to their kind.
At one end of the wide veranda overlooking the river a group sat at a card table. At the other end of the roomy lounging place, men and women, lying at careless ease in steamer-chairs and hammocks, were smoking and chatting about such things as are of interest only to that strange class who are educated to make idleness the chief aim and end of their existence. On the broad steps leading down to the tree-shaded lawn, which sloped gently to the boat landing at the river's edge, still other members of the company were scattered in characteristic attitudes. Across the river, in the shade of the cottonwoods that overhang the bank, a man and a woman in a boat were ostensibly fishing. In a hammock strung between two trees, a little way from the veranda, lay a woman, reading.
Now and then a burst of shrill laughter broke the quiet of the surrounding forest. A man on the steps called a loud suggestive jest to the pair in the boat, and the woman waved her handkerchief in answer. The card-players argued and laughed over a point in their game. Some one shouted into the house for Jim, and a negro man in white jacket appeared. When the people on the veranda had expressed their individual tastes, the one who had summoned the servant called to the woman in the hammock under the tree, "What is yours, Martha?"
Without looking up from her book, the woman waved her hand, and answered, "I am not drinking this time. Thanks."
A chorus of derisive shouts and laughter came from the veranda. But the woman went on reading. "Oh, let her alone!" protested some one, good-naturedly. "She was going a little strong, last night. She'll be all right by and by, when she gets started again."
The negro, Jim, had returned with his loaded tray, and was passing among the members of the company with his assortment of glasses, when some one called attention to Harry Green, who was just pulling his boat up to the landing after his visit to the little log house down the river.
A boisterous chorus greeted the boatman: "Hello, Harry! Did you find anything? You're just in time. What'll you have?"
With a wave of greeting, the man fastened his boat to the landing, and started up the slope.
"He'll have a Scotch, of course!" said some one. "Did anybody ever know him to take anything else? Go and get it, Jim. He'll be nearly dead for a drink after rowing all that distance."
The woman in the hammock lowered her book, and lay watching the man as he came up the path toward the steps.
Harry Green, who, apparently, was a person of importance among them, seated himself in an easy chair on the veranda, and accepted the glass proffered by Jim.
"Did you find any eggs, Harry?" demanded one. The man first refreshed himself with a long drink; then looked around with a grin of amused appreciation: "I didn't get any eggs," he said; "but I found the nest all right."
A shout of laughter greeted the reply.
"What sort of nest, Harry? Duck? Turkey? Hen? Dove? Or rooster?" came from different members of the chorus.
Raising his glass as though offering a toast, he answered: "Love! my children; love!"
A yell of delight came from the company, accompanied by a volley of: "A love-nest! Well, what do you know about that! Good boy, Harry! Takes Harry to find a love-nest! He's the boy to send for eggs! I should say, yes! Martha will like that! Oh, won't she!"
This last remark turned their attention toward the woman in the hammock, and they called to her: "Martha! Oh, Martha! Come here! You better look after Harry! Harry has found a love-nest! Told you something would happen if you let him go away alone!"
Putting aside her book, the woman came to join the company on the veranda.
She was rather a handsome woman, but with a suggestion of coarseness in form and features, though her face, in spite of its too-evident signs of dissipation, was not a bad face.
Seating herself on the top step, with her back against the post in an attitude of careless abandonment, she looked up at the negro who stood grinning in the doorway. "Bring me a highball, Jim: you know my kind." Then to the company: "Somebody give me a cigarette."
Harry tossed a silver case in her lap. Another man, who sat near, leaned over her with a lighted match.
Expelling a generous cloud of smoke from her shapely lips, she demanded: "What is this you are all shouting about Harry having another love-nest?"
During the answering chorus of boisterous laughter and jesting remarks, she drank the liquor which the negro brought.
Then Harry, pointing out Auntie Sue's house, which was easily visible from where they sat, related his experience. And among the many conjectures, and questions, and comments offered, no one suggested even that the man and the woman living in that little log house by the river might be entirely innocent of the implied charge. For those who are themselves guilty, to assume the guilt of others is very natural and altogether human.
In the moment's quiet which followed the arrival of a fresh supply of drinks, the woman called Martha said: "But what is the man like, Harry? You have enthused quite enough about the girl. Suppose you tell us about the man in the case."
Harry gave a very good description of Brian Kent.
"Oh, damn!" suddenly cried Martha, shaking her skirt vigorously. She had spilled some of the liquor from her glass.
A woman on the outer edge of the circle whispered to her nearest neighbor, and a hush fell over the group.
"Well," said Martha, drinking the liquor remaining in her glass, "why the devil don't we find out who they are, if we are so curious?"
"Find out! How? We'll find out a lot! What would you do,--ask them their names and where they are from?" came from the company.
"It is easy enough," retorted Martha. "There is that native girl that Molly picked up the day we landed here to help her in the kitchen. She must belong in this neighborhood somewhere. I'll bet she can tell us something. What is her name?"
"Judy,--Judy Taylor. Great idea! Good! Send her out here, Jim," responded the others.
When the deformed mountain girl appeared before them, she looked from face to face with such a frightened and excited expression on her sallow, old-young features, and such a wild light in her black
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